Friday, June 04, 1999

The Cricketisation of Racism!

We Bengalees have dangerous blemishes in our character, which are peculiar to our race. Superstition, hyper patriotism and ungratefulness being the more important ones as also, we are a mischievous lot, never learning, always forgetting and in the process reducing history and civility to a big time charade. It therefore came as no surprise that we chose to display all of the above traits and did so unashamedly, in public - as a consequence of the Bangladesh teams 'historic' victory over the Pakistan cricketers in Northampton. Had it been anywhere else in the world, this achievement would have been dismissed as an 'exhibition game' - but there was no shade of doubt that the manner in which Bangladesh won was a 'win in a fair game' with the 'whole world' watching - in the pompously dubbed Crickets World Cup!

Congratulations in order but I do have a comment to add. Bangladesh won on 'home grounds' - meaning not only did they have thousand of their own kind cheering them and rushing their adrenaline which created a 'homely atmosphere', the pitch was indeed a converted soccer field - a phenomenon we thought only existed in Bangladesh, in our 'home grounds'?

However the 'World' as we know of it, has a huge populace, who have absolutely no clue as to what this cricket game is all about - neither are they interested - and quite rightly so. This cricketing hoopla called the World Cup is indeed the Commonwealth Cricket Games of countries that still pay obeisance to their British colonial masters. In two hundred plus years the game of cricket has been used to keep the colonial spirit of exploitation alive and kicking amongst 'old natives' - who have in the meantime managed to produce among their offspring's respectable cricketers of considerable prowess! The previous masters ironically are no longer the Lords of the game. An invention purely of a white supremacist institution, cricket has remained racist - and newer racism's have been cultivated and promoted by the 'enlightened natives' of the game in the old colonies, so that, we now have to contend with Hindu-Muslim racism, Christian-Muslim racism,Christian-Hindu racism, Tamil-Indian racism, Buddhist-Hindu Racism and so on and so forth - and allow me if you will to introduce, the newest addition to it all - the Bengalee-Punjabi racism - the object of this essay.

For the hyper patriotic, this 'Bengalee victory' was subliminally equated to taking revenge for the carnage carried out by the brutal Pakistani Army of occupation in 1971, as were startling reports of the revival of that esoteric term ' the spirit of 1971'. All of this was savored with strains of racism and what was promptly forgotten during the excitable first hours was that these parallels could indeed do us more harm than good, and lest a new generation forget - let me remind them that the War of Independence was no game of chance, the dead unlike 'runs' were not numbers, and the comparisons are vulgar and disrespectful and disgraceful to the memories of all the martyrs that laid down their lives in that glorious period of our history.

In 1971 our heroes returned to lives without parents, of sisters raped, of properties destroyed. The trauma saw them without jobs, hungry and pauper, and in desperate need to get a grip on the great gloom that enveloped the entire nation. Our 'brave cricketing heroes' on the other hand have returned, to their families, with money and a lot more. They certainly don't fit the profile of the Muktijoddha's that fought the war and one could not help overlook the mercenary like glee in Aminul Islam's face when he mentioned the Prime Minister's (Honourable !) assurance of cash gift's and that other goodies that awaited them back home ! Least he could have done to make us proud was to speak proper English - or speak only in Bengalee rather then wrestling with a language he is not accustomed to or comfortable with. He fared much better than the man of the match Khaled Mahmud - who was atrocious! Nonetheless we surely gained a lot 'cricketwise' in a game of chance that we have now realize has to be traversed with lot of grit and determination - and that results like this 'historic win' not easily available on a platter.

However what happens when we lose (as we must) - the next time around to the Pakistani's is not been even considered during such hysterical times? How do we mince words when we lose? Will that loss mean a loss of the 'spirit of 1971'? Are we to equate the next defeat as a defeat of our war of Independence/Liberation? While every cricket loving Bengali rejoiced - those that prefer to identify with the renegade fringe, such as me, found things not quite in order. Above all the most important question is - are we not carrying this victory a bit too far?

Racially whom we call Pakistanis today - were indeed the Punjabis and Pathans in the years before 1971 - when we were East Pakistan. We also had a favourite derogatory term called 'mauraz' for them! We Bengalees had to contend and compete with the Punjabis as they determined the fate of the civil and military bureaucracy of undivided Pakistan - a competition that never saw the Bengalee winning. For unknown reasons the Pathans and maybe even the Baluch on the other hand, we never considered our equals. Indeed in some dumb way, we considered them dumb and foolish and the only thing we commended about this racial type were their brute strength. So there we were - the Pakistanis were basically the Punjabis who could outsmart the Bengalis while the Pathans and Baluch could not. Very Good! Now for the Punjabis intelligentsia the Bengalis were a lowly race of converted Hindus, who spoke a language whose alphabets were more Sanskrit (read Hindu) and Islamically incorrect. This as opposed to the more Arabic like Urdu (read Muslim) alphabets preferred by the Punjabis. The Bengali was considered a 'servant class' and so was his language.

In the good old days a mans pedigree was questioned if he spoke Bangla or showed a preference to this strange language. Urdu was ofcourse the connoisseur language of an aristocracy. Ironically that aristocracy included many Bengalees who refuse to speak Bangla even to this day - and if they do so it comes on with a thick Urdu accent - bahut accha! The demeaning racism of the Bengalees and Punjabis and vice versa fragmented the fragile Pakistan which was somehow cemented together in a geographical nightmare, with Hindu India forming a one thousand mile gulf between borders of the two wings. This was possible by the use of an 'Islamic balm' that held it together for twenty-four years or so.

Language therefore became the most important component for an end to this Quixotic absurdity among nations of the world. Bangladesh's entry into 'international cricket' has been recent and not necessarily one of leaps and bound or of great glory as is made out to be. In 1997 when we won the ICC Cup, it was merely an upgradation of our cricket and an entrance from an 'international' Third division league games status to second! While it gave a shot in the arm, we raved and ranted as if there was no tomorrow, as if the whole world had together with us stopped to watch what we were doing to rejoice. As if the World has all the time we have?

And what did we do?

For more than a week we slapped our own backs as well of others in congratulations, eve teased in the street, sexually harassed the female population by attacking them with colored water and on an 'off chance' probed our lecherous hands on various parts of their bodies. We distributed mishtis, we performed prayers of gratefulness to the Almighty, we read every day for months on end about our cricketers, their wives, their girl friends, their weddings, their cell phones, their cars, their accidents, their patriotism - and then surviving the inertia and letharism brought about by the 'national holidays' that followed? The 'rejoicing' this time around was no different. While newspapers in Bangladesh, make detailed studies as to how many 'precious days' does the national hostage taking culture of hartals lose. I have not yet read anywhere about how much precious time is lost by this racist game of chance? While the so called World Cup goes on - more and more people stop dead on their track - and just about do NOTHING, than watch cricket on TV or carrying a little transistor - listening to commentaries ball by ball, day in and out, for weeks.... .... For months !

My estimate in terms of time and resources lost in this useless pursuit, the cumulative 'national loss' (if there is such a term) is no less than one we incur following a HARTAL.

Then the superstitious and ungrateful factor! Gordon Greenidge the controversial Caribbean coach who was instrumental for the teams rapid success and attaining international stature was sacked? This happened hours before the match with Pakistan in Northhampton - and then Bangladesh won, and won BIG. In six previous encounters (battles!) with the Pakistani we had lost - the newest victory was indeed numerologically and superstitiously: lucky seven. Whenever Bengalees go on a losing spree or have a constant spell of bad lucks, we go looking for a bad omen in our midst. We affectionately call the omen 'kufa' which is indeed a derogatory term and in bad taste. For the uninitiated to Bengalee culture the 'kufa' is the opposite of a mascot, and must be weeded out. So Greenidge proved not only to be an embarrassment for Bangladesh for speaking the truth against our cricketing establishment, his sacking hours before the 'historic' game with Pakistan - also proved that he could have well been the 'kufa' we did not discover earlier!

The Bangladesh cricket establishment is plagued by political, business and the media mafia interest, and therefore does not, or cannot take in any criticism. In the 'grand reception' to our cricketers - this was evident. Any criticism of the Bangladesh team amounted to being dubbed a traitor a 'rajakar'. This is fascism pure and simple - so lets take this a step further, lets undemocratise the game of cricket - bring it to the level of hooligans and 'mastaans', not the gentlemen's game it is allegedly supposed to be - was the mentality that reeked strongly over the BTV telecast. No word of gratefulness or even a simple 'thank you', was uttered by any of the cricketers and officials - Greenidge the sportsman and gentleman - spirited quietly away from the worlds most 'heroic nation' - the Bengalees, proving very clearly that sportsman spirit is yet to be kindled in the Bengalee psyche?

That Greenidge himself was a honorary citizen of Bangladesh and the honor bestowed on him emotionally and sentimentally after our win in Kualalumpur was quickly forgotten. For the excitable Bengalees the man or men being considered to replace Greenidge are Pakistanis. They are not rajakars are they?

Defeating Pakistan in a stupid game of chance is equated to a win in a war - the 'patriotic spirit' driving us to inebriation and innate jingoism. Fair enough. On the same token and parameter of judgment, coaching of the Bangladesh team by Pakistanis (Punjabis) - should also be equated to our 'patriotic soldiers' being trained by our enemies!

When we go looking for a distasteful Pakistani conspiracy and 'plots by defeated forces of 1971' - in every sphere of our national lives - I wonder why this hyper patriotism blinds us into believing that the incumbent Pakistani coach will be merciful and teach us the tricks of the trade - to keep winning? Or shall it be that in the eventuality of an ultimate World Cup victory with a Pakistani coach in the helms of affair - we shall have headlines screaming 'patriots and rajakars collaborated to create history'!

The Punjabi racism towards Bengalis was evident in Wasim Akram's statement that 'we are happy we lost to our brother'. Surely it was not meant to be a loss against our 'East Pakistani' brothers but importantly a loss to brothers in the Islamic ummah - Bangladesh and Pakistan being the only Muslim nations playing this game of chance. Among the internationalist Muslim's therefore, a win or loss to another Muslim brother is no big deal. But Wasim should be reminded, that our 'brotherly feelings' evaporated the day we kicked out more than ninety thousand of his kind from independent Bangladesh - and in twenty eight years - the Pakistanis perhaps grudgingly qualify as our FRIENDS, not our brothers.

Happily there have been no reports of posters of 'cute boys' of the Pakistani team - those that hang in bedrooms of cricket enthusiast in Bangladesh being taken down, defaced or destroyed. For many Bengalees the loss of the Pakistani cricketers who have attained sex symbol status - was a shock. Also shocking for many were the photographs of girls in the Dhaka University orgasmically clutching posters of Mehrab. Bangladesh finally has a 'cute sex symbol' among its players - but for how long - is anybody's guess!

First Published 4th June 1999

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